SOC203H1 Chapter Notes -Heredity, Physical Restraint, Plebs
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March 18- Reading
Emile Durkheim- “Anomic Suicide”
“No one can be happy or even exist unless his needs are sufficiently proportioned to his
means." i.e. Needs must be met exactly or else it will continuously cause friction and
There must be equilibrium
o In animals, this equilibrium is established automatically because it is based on
material conditions only. As long as they have the means to survive, animals will
be satisfied and will not ask for more because it’s power of reflection is not
developed enough to “imagine other ends than those implicit in its physical
o The balance is automatic because as the work demanded for each organ itself
depends on the general state of vital energy and the needs of organic equilibrium,
use is regulated in turn by replacement. (not sure what this is going on about)
o But this isn’t the case for humans because most of our needs are not dependent on
our body, at least not to the same degree.
The quantity of material supplies necessary to the physical maintenance of
a human life is debatable. It’s less exact than with animals but there are
more combinations because of our will.
How do we determine the quantity of well-being, comfort or luxury legitimately to be
craved by human being?
o “Nothing appears in man’s organic nor in his psychological constitution which
sets a limit to such tendencies. The functioning of individual life does not require
them to ceases at one point rather than at another; the proof being that they have
constantly increased since the beginnings of history, receiving more and more
complete satisfaction, yet with no weakening of average health.”
“In no society are they equally satisfied in the different stages of the social hierarchy. Yet
in its essential qualities, human nature is basically the same among all men.
o So it’s not human nature that assigns the variable limits necessary to our needs.
Therefore these limits are unlimited because they depend on the individual.
Regardless of any external regulatory force, our capacity for feeling is in itself an
insatiable and bottomless abyss.” this is a source of torment to itself.
According to Durkheim, unlimited desires are insatiable by definition and
insatiability is rightly considered a sign of morbidity and that humans often set
themselves unattainable goals (this is an undetermined state).
o Humans want to believe that their efforts were not in vain and that they are
advancing towards a goal. But there is no goal to walk towards when you’re goal
is infinity (unlimited desires). Not matter what humans do, the distance between
them and their goal will always be the same and any sense of pride is deceptive
since the distance has not proportionally decreased. “We might as well have made
the motions without progress from the spot.”
o “To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a
state of perpetual unhappiness.” Hope can sustain us for a while but not forever.
The more one has, the more one wants, since satisfactions received only stimulate instead
of filling needs.
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Are these actions considered agreeable?
o 1. Only on condition of blindness to its uselessness.
o 2. For this pleasure to be felt and to temper and half veil the accompanying
painful unrest, such unending motion must at least always be easy and
unhampered. If it’s interfered, there will only be restlessness and a lack of ease.
o “Our thread of life on these conditions is pretty thin, breakable at any instant.”
To achieve something other than this restlessness and pain, the passions must be limited.
“Only then can they be harmonized with the faculties and satisfied.”
o Since humans can’t limit the passions themselves, there must be some exterior
force to do it for them. Physical restraint will not work because “hearts cannot be
touched by physio-chemical forces.”
Durkheim’s example: Appetites are not automatically restrained by
physiological mechanisms but they can be halted by a limit that they
recognize as just. “Men would never consent to restrict their desires if they
felt justified in passing the assigned limit.”
o “A regulatory force must play the same role for moral needs which the organism
plays for physical needs. i.e., the force can only be moral.
o The awakening of the conscience interrupted the state of equilibrium of the
animal’s formant existence and it is the means to re-establish it.
o The force must be an authority that they respect and which they yield to
automatically. Only society can play the moderating role, either directly, as a
whole or through one of its institutions. This is because society “is the only moral
power superior to the individual, the authority of which he accepts.”
Only society has the power to stipulate laws, set the point which passions
cannot go and estimate the reward offered to every class of human
functionary (for common interest).
There has always been a “dim perception, in the moral consciousness of societies, of the
respective value of different social services, the relative reward due to each, and the
consequent degree of comfort appropriate on the average to workers in each occupation.”
Occupations are assessed by public opinion and then a “certain coefficient of well-being”
is assigned according to its place in the hierarchy.
Durkheim says that according to acceptable ideas, there is a certain way of living
considered higher and more desirable (an upper limit) and a worker might aspire to reach
that way of living. There is also a way of living that is low and undesirable and this is a
limit which the worker will not allow himself to fall as long as he can help it. Both the
upper limit and the lower limit differ for people working in different places, in different
areas of expertise and people who have different jobs.
o The rich man is criticised if he lives the life of a poor man and also if he goes
overboard when seeking luxuries.
“A genuine regime exists…which fixes with relative precision the maximum degree of
ease of living to which each social class may legitimately aspire.” However, this scale
changes with the increase or decrease of collective revenue and the changes occurring in
the moral ideas of society. So the idea of what is luxury and what isn’t changes from time
to time “and the well-being which for long periods was granted to a class only by
exception and supererogation, finally appears strictly necessary and equitable.”
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